By Steven McCartney
Florida State Sports Information Intern
TALLAHASSEE, FLA. – Freshman Victoria (Tory) Paranagua is new to sand volleyball after focusing on competitive swimming for most of her life.
Still, the 5-11 Austin, Texas, native is expected to make a major splash this spring with the National Championship Runner-Up Seminoles this spring after capturing first-place in the USA Volleyball High Performance U-21 tournament.
“I’ve been swimming almost all my life,” Paranagua said. “That was the first sport that I ever did competitively, and then I started playing volleyball. Swimming is a tough sport, and I got burnt out a little bit.”
As Paranagua gradually drifted away from the pool, a sport she dominated in high school and earned All-State honors at Anderson High in Austin, she devoted more and more time to volleyball. She started playing sand volleyball just for fun, as a transition between volleyball and swimming seasons in high school. Three years ago, she decided to get a coach and start practicing, and has developed into one of the best young sand volleyball players in the country.
Her efforts were rewarded last month at the USA U-21 tournament in Long Beach, Calif., as she paired with playing partner Julia Mannisto, a freshman at South Carolina, to win the event.
“It was a confidence boost, but also scary because I didn’t want so much attention,” Paranagua said. “I didn’t want to have high expectations.”
She was originally scheduled to participate in the event with fellow Florida State freshman Vanessa Friere, but Friere suffered an injury and was unable to compete. In the end, Paranagua and Mannisto met just a day prior to the event beginning, showing how quickly and effectively Paranagua can adapt to changes on the court and work with her playing partner. Florida State Head Coach Danalee Corso says her adaptability is one of her greatest strengths.
“She can play any position,” Corso said. “She can lead or she can follow, and that’s an ideal recruit for us.”
The competition at the High Performance tournament included two-year players from Pepperdine and Hawai’i, schools that, like Florida State, participated in the 2014 AVCA Sand Volleyball National Championship, eventually won by Pepperdine as the ‘Noles finished as the national runner-up.
“Beating girls that have two years of college-playing experience, and you’re a recruit coming in, that’s massive,” Corso said. “I was really impressed by that win, and I’m very excited about the timing of it. It was the last major event she was going to play in before coming to Florida State, and being able to win it shows that there is a difference between great players and great recruits, and to be able to close out that tournament is what we want.”
Paranagua is half-Brazilian and half-American, and spent the first 11 years of her life living in Brazil. She is one of five new players coming to play for Corso this season.
Corso says that, because the FSU program has been around for all four seasons as a collegiate sport, the competition for playing time will be more difficult than ever before as players have been able to grow and mature in the program.
“The goal for any freshman like Tory is to make the starting lineup, and I think all of our freshmen have the ability to do that,” Corso said. “Each year, the recruits get more experienced and stronger as the sport matures. The freshmen progress the quickest their first semester, but ultimately I put the 10 best players on the court come March.”
When Corso first met Paranagua, she saw the potential that the still-inexperienced amateur displayed on the court.
“She wasn’t as polished as some of the recruits we were looking at,” Corso says. “A few months went by, and I got a video of her which showed her progressing and looking really strong. She’s a great athlete, so we’re really excited that she’s come so far before she got here, and now we can push her and progress her to the potential that we knew she had. We recruited her on potential, and it’s really come to fruition.”
Corso also appreciates the fact that Paranagua excelled at swimming for so many years before focusing on volleyball.
“I’m a big fan of sports like swimming and track that actually keeps you well-conditioned,” Corso says. “I know that swimmers have it tougher [training early in the morning], so this is going to be a breeze. [Florida State] All-American Jace Pardon had a swimming background coming out of California, and she’s doing phenomenal things on the court. Now that Tory is working on sand volleyball full-time, she is going to see tremendous growth.”
After three consecutive top-three finishes at the AVCA National Championships, Corso believes that this is the season the ‘Noles can take the title.
“We were two points away from the championship last year, and most of the season I did not feel we were ready until the end when we were completely ready to go,” Corso says. “This year, with the talent we have returning and our newcomers, including Tory, I feel more confident than I ever have that we can actually win it all.”